Five Hours of Sleep, Not Enough Money for Food: Lansing Workers Talk Strike

Members of the UAW picket line in Delta Township, Michigan on September 29, 2023. (Michigan Advance/Anna Liz Nichols)

By Michigan Advance

October 2, 2023


MICHIGAN—General Motors Lansing Delta Township plant employees were called on Friday to join the United Auto Workers (UAW) strike—and those on the picket line say they’re ready for change.

Friday marks the beginning of a third week the UAW will be striking at 43 locations across 21 states for the Detroit Three auto manufacturers—Ford, General Motors (GM) and Stellantis—due to failed contract negotiations.

Bobbie Ledesma, one of the 25,000 total workers who have been called to walk off the job, said things have changed since she started working for GM 26 years ago—and not for the better.

“For these younger ones that are coming into this, some with kids. I don’t even know how they’re doing it. Yeah, I really don’t know,” Ledesma said.

People at the General Motors Lansing Delta Township plant are working about 52 hours every week and young people being hired to temporary positions are seeing some of the harshest conditions.

“It’s not greed … give [workers] a shorter pathway to get hired, to get the full pay. Don’t let these temps work for two years with no vacation, no sick days. People get sick, families get sick, stuff happens. It’s not right,” Ledesma said.

Another plant worker, Bobby Cotter, cut in to explain the scale of the problem facing some workers at the plant.

“This lady right here [Ledesma]. Christmas time comes around, we get bonuses, they don’t. She buys them food; she gives them clothes. All these people here take their money and give them to these kids that don’t have stuff we have. It’s not like we’re greedy. We share our wealth,” Cotter said.

One of the UAW’s demands for a new contract is demolishing the tiered wage system, which keeps new workers at a lower pay rate than those hired before 2007 agreements and offers fewer benefits.

“I always tell everybody, why do you want a job here? It used to be a real good job when I was hired in ‘84. There were lines a mile long, because we had health care and the good stuff. Then they started taking things away one by one,” Cotter said.

He was 18 when he started at GM and has worked at a few plants as GM has shut them down, but Cotter said he does harbor gratitude towards GM.

“I’m not even going to bash GM. They gave me a life. Like I bought my car, the house; GM sent my kids to school. They sent me to school,” Cotter said. “I’m not bashing them that way, but now it’s time I think that they give back to us sometimes.”

As Ledesma and Cotter were speaking, the host of cars honking with thumbs up in support was interrupted by one passing driver screaming, “Spoiled brats!”

Ledesma said it’s a slap in the face to be thought of as greedy, as older workers are standing on the picket line for the benefit of their peers.

“It’s not just about us. We’re fighting for everybody. What we’re doing pulls everybody up and that’s what the public fails to realize,” Ledesma said. “It’s not just our fight. We’re fighting for you. You shouldn’t be making $7 an hour when eggs cost $4. I mean, how are people living?”

To make ends meet, Ledesma said most workers on top of mandatory overtime have other jobs, she personally works some nights until 11, having also done some real estate work and is up at 4 a.m. the next day to go to the plant.

Cotter paints motorcycles and cars after work, for a 14-hour work day.

UAW President Shawn Fain came to the Delta Township picket line to offer support to workers and let them know the UAW is working hard to get a new contract negotiated with GM, as well as the other automakers.

“Half our members came to afford to buy what we build,” Fain said. “This isn’t fun to us; we’re not out here just for the heck of it. We’re out here because GM and three companies screwed around for over seven weeks and didn’t get into bargaining with us.”

The UAW has demanded a record contract and GM has been offering a reasonable record contract, GM Chair and CEO Mary Barra said in a statement on Friday.

“As we saw this week, UAW leadership continues to expand the strike while upping the rhetoric and the theatrics. It’s clear that there is no real intent to get to an agreement. Since negotiations started this summer, we’ve been available to bargain 24/7 on behalf of our represented team members and our company,” Barra said.

What GM does impacts the whole community, Tony M’s Restaurant and Banquet Center owner Tamara Ferrell said. The picket line for striking workers is located on her property, across the street from GM’s facilities and she hardily welcomes them to remain for the duration of the strike, just as she did during the 2019 strike which lasted 40 days.

“It’s a working relationship; we support them and they said, ‘Hey, if we strike, can we use your parking lot again?’ I said, ‘Absolutely,’” Ferrell said. “Every day those workers come in here. When I was down with COVID, they tried to get big orders to keep me going.”

Cotter said plenty of restaurants around Lansing and Delta Township are like that, very invested in the workers who come for lunch and dinner after their shifts, adding that Tony M’s has great pizza and sandwiches.

Ferrell said Tony M’s is a small business, but the union members make up a large portion of her business.

“What GM does down there with their workers, eventually affects me,” Ferrell said.

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license. 


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